What’s in store for TBTI Bangladesh?

By Ruyel Miah & Ratana Chuenpagdee

After the successful book launch on March 15th, the Sylhet-based members of TBTI Bangladesh had their first official meeting, not only among themselves but also with two fishers and one fisherwoman, one government office, and two representatives of the local non-governmental organizations. The fishers and the fisherwoman shared some of the struggles they are facing, such as the fishing bans that restrict their fishing activities. A couple of reasons were mentioned regarding the lack of policy compliance. These included a lack of awareness and access to information and a lack of incentives (e.g., why should they comply?). The woman talked about the lack of opportunity to participate in the fisheries due mostly to the cultural factors and the demands from the household.

Sylhet-based members of TBTI Bangladesh on a roundtable discussion at Sylhet Agricultural University.

These problems have been widely discussed, but not much has been achieved. Yet, there are some examples from which lessons can be drawn. The Tanguar Haor in Bangladesh was raised as an interesting case, where a couple of NGOs were able to empower small-scale fishers to participate in a community-based fisheries management. The NGOs provided incentives to fishers to comply with the regulations during the project period. The outcomes were a significant improvement in terms of participation, fisheries production, and conflicts resolutions among the stakeholders. However, things reverted back to usual once the project ended. Meanwhile, the government was providing a leasing system for fishers to have secure access to the fisheries resources in Tanguar Haor but due to a lack of money/savings, fishers were unable to take a lease of the water body. As a result, fishers ended up seeking support from the moneylenders; thus, the control over waterbodies is in the hands of the moneylenders.

Tanguar haor in Sunamganj, Sylhet, Bangladesh (Source: Local Guides Connect).

The discussion about the Tanguar Haor was lively, and the case was deliberated with good reflections about the complexity of the problem and how more effort is needed to improve fisheries governance in Bangladesh, making it more inclusive and comprehensive to start with. Issues like power imbalance, local elite influence, fishers’ dependency on external support, weak representation of fishers, and lack of legal support were mentioned during the discussion, which needs to be overcome. The meeting ended with the fishers saying that once they feel represented and supported, and see their voice being heard, they would be obliged to follow the policies and support the government plan.

The second day of the meeting (May 16th) was among the senior and junior faculty, and students of Sylhet Agricultural University. The discussion was about what TBTI Bangladesh can do to support small-scale fisheries in the country and in the region through collaboration with other TBTI hubs. A suggestion was made about engaging other Bangladeshi universities that deal with fisheries and aquatic resources to join the initiative, perhaps through a formal agreement. The role of youth is highly recognized as those who will take the network forward. Sylhet Agricultural University has hosted two international fisheries conferences, and there is no reason why the next one in 2024 would not be focusing on small-scale fisheries. This is considered as a great contribution to the celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the SSF Guidelines, and a good indication of TBTI Bangladesh’s commitment towards the IYAFA’s call for the New Era of Support for Small-Scale Fisheries.

What's with the green cake?

TBTI Bangladesh was successfully launched with the release of the E-book and the meeting. But what is a celebration without a cake! This was a last-minute decision, but as a former student of Sylhet Agricultural University, Ruyel knew exactly where to place the order.  When we picked it up, Ratana was surprised to see the cake was so vividly green. As someone who has spent many years in Newfoundland, she immediately thought – how perfect this would be for St. Patrick’s Day! Ruyel said he didn’t ask for anything except for TBTI Bangladesh to be written on it. So it was the store’s decision. Perhaps it is because Sylhet is an agricultural university? Or maybe because Sylhet is famous for green tea? Who said the cake needs to be blue just because we work on fisheries? Fisheries in Sylhet are all inland anyway, like in the hoar, where the water may be blue, but the surrounding is very green. In the end, it did not matter what colour the cake was. It tasted good, and we enjoyed every bit of it.

The next day we returned to the same bakery, and the storekeeper asked, with a sly smile, ‘Did you like the green cake?’ We nodded and bought some more sweets.

From left: Dr. Partho Protim Barman, Associate Professor, Faculty of Fisheries, Sylhet Agricultural University; Dr. Mrityunjoy Kunda, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Fisheries, Sylhet Agricultural University; Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee, TBTI Global Project Director and University Research Professor, Memorial University; Dr. Mohammad Mahmudul Islam, Professor, Faculty of Fisheries, Sylhet Agricultural Universityl and Dr. Md. Mostafa Shamsuzzaman, Professor and Director, Office of the Students Counseling and Guidance, Faculty of Fisheries, Sylhet Agricultural University.